Best Freshwater Aquarium Sand Options For Your Fish Tank

Sand as a substrate has become more popular over the last few years and shares an equal place in the spotlight as gravel.

And because of that…

What follows is a discussion of the benefits and uses of sand, as well as a review of three products you may want to consider so you can choose the best sand for your freshwater aquarium. For me, it’s the Super Naturals Moonlight. Tell me later, what’s yours. 😉

Product Details
1. CaribSea Moonlight Sand

Premium Quality

  • 5-Lb. Bag
  • No Dyes Or Paints
  • pH Neutral
  • Pre-Washed
  • Cool & Bright
Click here for best price
2. Aqua Terra Aquarium Sand

Nitrifies Bacteria

  • 5-Lb. Bag
  • Chemically Inert
  • In 2 Vibrant Colors
  • Great Anchoring
Click here for best price
3. Crystal River Freshwater Sand

Protective Coating

  • 20-Lb. Bag
  • May Get Compacted
  • Natural Colors
  • No Dyes Or Paints
Click here for best price

Best Sand For Freshwater Aquarium Reviews

1. CaribSea Super Naturals Moonlight Sand

This CaribSea Moonlight sand beautifies your aquarium and its natural color provides a great match for your colorful finned friends.

This material is designed to work in all aquariums and is made in the USA. No dyes or paints are used to produce the color of this sand. This Moonlight Sand substrate is PH neutral so it will not alter the water chemistry. You may find that you need to rinse this substrate more than you do other products that are similar.

There is an oily residue that must be rinsed away completely before you use it in your aquarium.

This material is also extremely light, which may cause it to be moved around easily by currents generating from your filters. The fine particle size and light weight could allow this sand to suspend itself in the water column for a longer period of time than similar products.

Pros

  • Creates natural habitat
  • pH neutral
  • Works in all tanks

Cons

  • Requires extra rinsing
  • Can stay suspended longer

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2. Aqua Terra Aquarium Sand

Aqua Terra Aquarium Sand will definitely enhance the look of your finned friends’ habitat. This premium-quality, all-natural substrate provides great living space for beneficial microbes and anchoring for plants. It also aids the filtering process by increasing the surface area available for nitrifying bacteria to colonize. The non-toxic, 100% acrylic colorfast coating won’t foul your water or impact your water chemistry.

Pros

  • Great for planted aquariums
  • Chemically inert
  • Available in 2 vibrant colors

Cons

  • May be challenging to work with
  • Color may disappoint some

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3. CaribSea Super Naturals Crystal River Freshwater Sand

The Crystal River Freshwater Sand is designed to create a natural-looking aquarium bottom. Super Naturals sand is designed to simulate a more natural color. The material is a very fine grit, which should prevent any issues of detritus buildup. The product is made in the USA.

Super Naturals is safe for all aquarium systems.

This substrate is pH neutral, so it should not alter the water chemistry in your aquarium. CaribSea Aquatics does not use paints or dyes on this product.

This product may settle and compact too tightly for fish that like to burrow or dig.

The fine particle size may cause the substrate to become compacted. You may want to agitate the bedding periodically to allow proper circulation throughout the sand and prevent “dead zones” from occurring. The fine particle size will require more rinsing than other sands before you place it in your aquarium.

Pros

  • Natural color holds well
  • The sand is pH neutral
  • No paints or dyes are used

Cons

  • Fine particle size can become compacted
  • Sand requires a lot of rinsing before use

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Sand Compared To Gravel

The two most popular forms of substrate used in aquariums are gravel and sand. Each offers unique properties.

With sand, there are features that could make it the right selection for you. Sand should simulate more natural bedding for your fish than gravel would. Almost all species that an owner will keep come from waters with a slower flow rate. These slower-moving waters contain smaller particles such as mud, sand, and silt.

Many fish burrow, create pits, or sift for food in the substrate. These activities are easier for fish to do in the sand than they are in gravel. This substrate is not as rough on a fish’s soft body parts, like the barbels found on Corydoras. Many plants will thrive in sand and may require it more so than they will gravel.

Often, sand is a more appropriate size for plant roots. An article on selecting the best substrate for a planted tank will better define this in full detail. Sand can make for a cleaner tank as the smaller grain size prevents debris from becoming trapped. These materials will move around the bottom and collect in pockets that can be vacuumed easily. If the current is strong enough, the debris will move into the filter system.

Issues Specific To Sand Use

One issue that is cited when considering sand is the creation of hydrogen sulfide, which can be toxic. Small grains can compact and create “dead zones” that lack oxygen. Fish species that burrow or dig pits will prevent this and in a worst-case scenario, you can periodically agitate the substrate with your hand or a stick.

Sand can be harder to vacuum as the smaller particles will be picked up by the nozzle. This can be avoided by siphoning just above the bedding instead of the sand itself. If too much sand becomes suspended in the water it could clog the filters. Moving a filter off of the bottom of the tank and being cautious while moving plants and decor should prevent this from happening.

What To Look For In Sand For Your Freshwater Aquarium

You will want to use sand that is designed to be used in a freshwater aquarium. Most sand is silica-based, and that silica can contribute to brown algae. Aquarium sand that is silica-based will have a coating that prevents this. When shopping for aquarium sand for your freshwater tank, you need to consider grain size.

The substrate should be small enough to prevent fish waste, food, and other debris from falling between the grains. The sand should be large enough (and uniform in shape) to allow oxygen to circulate through the substrate to avoid “dead zones.”Another point to consider is how the sand will affect the PH levels of your tank.

Some materials will buffer the water, keeping the PH levels higher. Sand that is designed for aquarium use is inert so that it will not alter the water chemistry. Manufacturers will offer aquarium sand with features designed around fish behaviors and tank environments. The substrate can be designed to be more gentle on fish that carry or move sand with their mouth.

The material used could be heavier to allow the particles to settle quickly, preventing the sand from staying suspended in the water column and entering the filtering system.

How To Use Sand In Your Freshwater Aquarium

The minimum recommended depth of sand you will want in your aquarium is one inch. If you want to keep live plants, your substrate needs to be two or three inches deep for the plants to root. A handy online calculator will be most useful to determine it.

You must clean the sand before using it in your tank. Fill a bucket half full of sand and then add water until it is almost full. Use your hand to sift through the sand and then drain the water from the sand. Repeat this process until the water is clear.

After you add the sand to your tank, place a dish on top of the sand. Pour water into the dish. This will prevent the water from disturbing the sand which will force debris into the water column as you fill the tank. Cleaning sand can be done in a similar manner as gravel, with just a few differences.

Here’s a video of how to use a vacuum on sand…

The Best Sand From Our Reviews

After looking at the products discussed, our recommendation would be the CaribSea Super Naturals Moonlight Sand Aquarium Substrate.

This sand will offer great bedding that will not compact too firmly and offers a great color match for your betta fish in an aquarium. The material is pH neutral and works in all tank environments.

Last Updated: October 17, 2021

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